Missouri lawyers recognized for pro bono work
Each year, The Missouri Bar presents Pro Bono Publico Awards to show appreciation to lawyers and legal groups who provide exceptional legal assistance to those who cannot afford a lawyer. This year, five lawyers are being recognized for their service to Missouri’s most at-risk citizens.
Thomas H. Davis is a partner with Stinson, LLP in Kansas City, Missouri. Davis’ key pro bono victory involved partnering with Legal Aid of Western Missouri on a series of cases to help families with a serious bedbug issue which their landlord refused to mitigate. The results included a positive verdict and settlements for each family but also an appellate decision enabling pro bono lawyers to recover fees.
Davis’ appreciation of the award also came with a mention of his partner in the case, “I am deeply grateful to Legal Aid attorney Jesi Stanley for her partnership, friendship and inspiration on the series of cases we worked on together.”
Gerard “Jay” Harms, Jr. owns Harms Law Office, LLC in Osage Beach, Missouri. His practice focuses primarily on real estate law, construction law, juvenile law and adoptions. Harms’ pro bono service is through the Samaritan Center of Jefferson City’s Legal Care Program. This program connects persons of limited means to lawyers willing to work with them.
“By accepting even one pro bono client each year the attorneys in Central Missouri affect many lives by representing persons that may be at a disadvantage in civil legal proceedings because they cannot afford to hire an attorney,” said Harms. “Assisting people in our community can be a simple yet rewarding way to share the blessing we have been given in our profession.”
Timothy G. O’Connell is with the firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP in St. Louis. A longtime volunteer, O’Connell has served as board secretary for the Young Friends of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri as well as a volunteer lawyer for the group. He has also worked with the Innocence Project in overturning wrongful imprisonment cases.
“One of my career highlights was being able to walk out of the Cole County courthouse steps with my client, George Allen, who was freed after serving 30 years for a murder he did not commit,” stated O’Connell.
Chris Weiss is a partner with Husch Blackwell in Springfield, Missouri, and no stranger to pro bono work. He has been listed on The Missouri Bar Pro Bono Wall of Fame from 2012-2014 and again from 2017-2019. He has handled cases ranging from international parental kidnapping to counseling local charities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Harmony House.
When asked what receiving this recognition meant, Weiss stated, “It is a privilege to be a lawyer, and I believe with that privilege comes the responsibility to see that everyone, including those who do not have the means to hire a lawyer and are most vulnerable, have equal access to justice.”
In addition to these honorees, The Missouri Bar Young Lawyers' Section also selects a member to highlight for the Pro Bono Publico Award. The mission of the Young Lawyers' Section is to enhance the professional growth of newly admitted Missouri lawyers and pro bono work is a key element of their community service.
Danielle Atchison of the Mdivani Corporate Immigration Law Firm is this year's YLS Pro Bono Publico Award winner. Although a young lawyer, Atchison is already well known for her commitment to pro bono work, receiving the YLS Tom Cochran Award for Community Service this year. She serves immigrant women and children who are survivors of domestic violence, volunteers her time along the southern border of the United States to help immigrants and refugees navigate our legal system and even works with her local Jackson County CASA on behalf of children.
Atchison's advice to new lawyers is, “Get involved. Give back. Do pro bono work. As an attorney, you are uniquely situated to assist your fellow humans, find the cause you care about and make changes for the better.”
The service of all five honorees will be highlighted next week during the national Celebrate Pro Bono Week from October 25-31, 2020. Learn more about their individual reasons for doing pro bono work and highlights of cases that impacted them personally at news.mobar.org.